UNLEASHING THE VOICES OF THOSE THAT WORK TO GIVE VOICE TO THE MARGINALIZED AMONG US
For the last year and a half, I have been leading product development for a storytelling platform called Memria.org. We built Memria because there is currently no way for organizations — specifically social impact or advocacy organizations or NGOs — to easily collect, curate, analyze and share a large volume of narrative accounts, told by people in their own voices whose stories should be heard.
Since February, Memria has been running a pilot project with the Norwegian Human Rights Fund, collecting stories of human rights defenders (HRDs) about the work they do, the risks they take, and why they are compelled to fight for the rights of others. Last week, we began publishing these stories and releasing the voices of these HRDs out into the world.
WHY THIS MATTERS
So what? Why does this matter? Stories are everywhere, right?
When you turn to your social media feed, radio, or TV news broadcast, you hear lots of “stories”. You hear short sound bites or anecdotes about people’s experiences. However, these stories are often mediated through the filter of the media outlet or platform that is distributing that story. If it’s a clip in a news broadcast, it’s going to be within the context or spin of the broader segment. Stories on social media are really just snippets of our everyday lives, shared with the people who we think might care to hear them (but in all honesty, probably don’t). But where can we go to hear first person, autobiographical narrative accounts on important societal issues, told by individuals outside our own social spheres and without being mediated by a news producer or film director?
The answer is we really can’t. For as much as the notion of story is out in the ether right now, there are not great tools that enable us to actually hear each other’s stories, collected on a large scale and made available for wide distribution.
- What if there was a place to go where you could hear 10,000 people’s experience of getting health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and then losing it with the repeal of that legislation just a few short years later?
- What if there was way to collect and distribute 500 audio recorded stories of transgendered teenagers and their experiences watching the “bathroom bill” debates play out and wreak havoc on their lives and identities?
- What if there was a way to collect hundreds of stories from police and residents of communities of color about what their day-to-day experiences and interactions are like, and then exchange those stories with each other?
We hear “stories” on these issues nearly every day in news outlets and on social media, but these stories are always mediated. While we might hear a short clip of someone’s voice who represents the point of view of the story, we are not really hearing that person’s full and direct experience in a pure, unfiltered and unmediated way. As a result, we absorb (consciously or not) the bias and perspective of that media piece. It’s like the audio version of a photograph – a photograph might represent reality, but it only shows the reality that exists within the frame. We don’t see what was happening just off-camera. We don’t see what happened moments before or moments after the image was captured. Similarly, mediated stories extract segments from the larger whole of a person’s experience as means of strengthening their case or making their point more powerfully.
In addition to enabling the collection of stories on a particular topic at scale, we also enable the telling of these stories in a direct, unfiltered and highly personal manner. Stories on the Memria platform can be written, but the most impactful stories that we have collected with the Norwegian Human Rights Fund so far are those that were audio recorded in the storyteller’s own voice. Enhanced with photographs, these audio narratives are powerful vignettes into these individual’s lives. You can hear the passion with which they speak on an issue; you hear their pain or their joy; you hear their personality shine through.